Social Security rules for ex-spousal benefits

Mary: I have been separated for 10 years from a very abusive man to whom I was married 23 years. I am going to finalize the divorce this year. He is 70; I am 62. I did not work for many years in the marriage as I took care of the children, household and everything else. If I file now, can I collect half of his benefit? It is still more than my benefit. I have some serious health issues, including invasive breast cancer, so I am looking at my options. I called Social Security and they were useless to the point of being rude.

Phil Moeller: It is true that the maximum amount of ex-spousal benefits is equal to half of your soon-to-be former husband’s full benefit, which is the amount he would receive assuming he filed for retirement at what’s called full retirement age (FRA). This amount is yours regardless of when he actually files for his retirement.

However, to be entitled to this large a benefit, you must wait until your own FRA to claim it. If you file for this benefit now it will be much lower than if you wait.

Having said this, you won’t be eligible to file for this benefit unless your ex- has already filed for his retirement benefit or after you have been divorced for two years. Given that he is 70, I assume he has filed for his own benefit, but your note did not make that clear.

If you are strapped for funds and simply cannot wait to file for your benefit, and he has already filed for his own benefit, you need not wait for the divorce to become final. Simply go ahead now and file for a regular spousal benefit as a married person.